18 2002 Advance Base Camp, Everest.
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was an important day for Will and I, our first
foray up to 7000 meters and camp 1on the north
col of Everest. The day before we had decided to
do a little recce with about 15kgs and dump the
stuff in a duffle bag at the bottom of the huge
headwall that rises 2000' sheer from the head of
the glacier up to the col itself.
the North Col we will then climb several
thousand feet straight up to where the north
ridge joins the north-east ridge. But lets not
talk about that now, eh?
Will and I had been conserving our energies and acclimatizing
carefully down here at ABC. The thing is that we
are at just above 21,000' which is more or less
the maximum you can really acclimatize at. Above
ABC you start degenerating, fast, so we were in
no rush to go up to the North Col until we both
felt ready. Also we had been watching people
come into ABC, have one days rest and then rush
to the North Col. Why, we asked, especially when
later on in the day those same people could be
seen dispiritedly stumbling back down again,
headaches like vices, and learning a big lesson
on Everest. You just can't hurry it.
Russians who had plied us with whisky the other
night succumbed to North Col fever but they are
strong as oxen. With hands like peat shovels and
a lifetime of hardship etched no their faces,
they filled their sacks and clambered up to the
North Col. Will and I met one of their team
Vladimir, from the Urals, and he looked as if
someone was just insistently tapping on his head
with a two foot wide spoon, as if trying to
crack open an egg.
Vlad the Impaler didn't look too happy. But, you
gotta hand it to them, they got there. So Will
and I were very happy to see that our first few
hours to the North Col, up the length of the
moraine along the edge of the glacier and then
onto the glacier itself, were entirely without
any pain to the head. In fact we felt great!
just one hour and forty minutes were at our
duffle bag and shifting gear about to take up.
From here suddenly the headwall looked a tad
steep. "Look," remarked Will,
"that bit there looks over 60
degrees". Thanks Will. We put on harnesses
and started up.
the Korean Sherpas had put in some fixed line so
this made things comparatively easy; but we were
approaching 23,000', some of the slopes were
remarkably steep and sections were like a shiny
new bottle. We put in ten paces then stopped to
catch breath. The sun beat down. Concentration
was important. We had seen the Russians do this
in over five hours and inside my head I was
looking up and calculating. "Will," I
yelled down, "we're making good time!
Should've brought more gear with us!".
Will, ever the gentleman, gave me two fingers.
The last section was the proverbial sting in the
it was, the North Col, within reach but between
us lay the steepest section yet. Later Will and
I agreed it was 75 degrees and I knew it!
Standing at the bottom I had to crane my neck
completely backwards to see the top. Oh God.
"Will", I shouted to gain his
attention, "it's a doddle". I gave him
the thumbs up. Later Will berated me with
language I'm afraid I cannot repeat here. But as
I climbed, forcing my cramponed boots into the
softish snow to make nice big buckets to stand
in, I got more and more excited. This was like summiting
Aconcagua in terms of height, the highest peak
in South America!
air was thin, we were virtually alone on the
hill, the sky was a deep blue and nothing was
going to stop us reaching our first big Camp!
Better still we were doing it all by ourselves -
no Sherpas or help. Sure it was hard going but
what the hell, I could see Will with that
peculiar determined look on his face, like a
bulldog enroute to it's bowl, ad knew he was
thinking the same. I got up there and
immediately dropped my rucksack and turned back
to Will. We saw the view together, perched on
that 23,000' ridge we could see suddenly both
sides, the mountains and the panorama. Wow!
Amazing stuff. "How your head?" Will
asked, "mine's fine too! We're doing
of the shortage of real estate up on the north
col, we decided to pitch our tent. Some other
Sherpas were up there pitching tents for clients
and the Russians gave us a wave. "You
bloody well done, you strong men you! You bring
whisky?" Sergei shouted across. Will and I
could only laugh in amazement and wave back.
Tough guys. Mind you we had climbed the headwall
in just over three hours, and damn were we
chuffed! We put the tent up and dumped all our
gear in it. Then, clipping on with just a
karabiner, we forward ran the first half of the
headwall. The icy, steeper bits we stuck on a
descender and rappelled down at speed. At the
bottom I came up to Will. "You won't
believe it, mate, 26 minutes down!".
a fantastic day, we came into camp elated and
there was Tirta our cook to greet us with smiles
and crows of happiness. He is like a benevolent
uncle, feeding us and watering us and boiling
umpteen pots of water. Now he presented us with
a huge homemade pizza! Tirta, you old devil you,
how in hell did you rustle that up?
is rest day and tomorrow we do it again. In fact
over the next week we will do the same carry
about three times till Camp 1 has everything we
need for the whole mountain. No overnights, no
unnecessary exertions. We'll just stock our camp
and then, when we're as fast and as nimble as
mountain goats on that headwall, then we'll go
up and spend the night and make a move to Camp
three of the Russians came down. Boy, they
looked bad. Last night the weather really got
bad and tents were knocked all over the place.
You could hear the wind bowling down the valley,
brace yourself for it, watch the tents go
concave then spring back into shape. Those
Russians must have had a bad night up on that
north col. So, tomorrow another go.
keep you posted.